October 27, 2017
Editor’s Note: This blog was written in partnership with our member organization, the Organic Farming Research Foundation.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced more than $20 million in competitive grant awards to support one of agriculture’s fastest growing sectors – organics. The funding was awarded through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and Organic Transitions Program (ORG) to support organic research projects that improve the quality and production of organic food, fiber, and other products.
Of the total grant funds, USDA awarded roughly $16.5 million through OREI, USDA’s flagship organic research program. OREI supports research, education, and extension projects that help organic producers to improve their yield, quality, and profitability.
The remaining $3.7 million was awarded through ORG, which unlike OREI limits eligibility to universities. This more limited program focuses on barriers to transition, access to new tools to address those removed from the national list of approved substances, and on ecosystem services and the climate change mitigation potential of organic farms
Public investment in organic research, education, and extension in crucial for the ongoing growth and success of American producers. Thanks to support from agencies like NIFA, which has awarded more than $183 million in organic research funding through OREI and ORG to date, organic research and extension projects are now happening in cities and states across the country.
A full list of this year’s OREI and ORG grant recipients can be found here.
The Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) is a National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) member and a leading champion of organic farmers across the U.S. OFRF works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems by cultivating organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production. Last August – using funds from a 2014 OREI grant – OFRF published an in-depth analysis of the state of organic research funded by OREI and ORG from 2002-2014, “Taking Stock: Analyzing and Reporting Organic Research Investments, 2002 – 2014”. The report also included recommendations on how ORG and OREI could improve and expand organic research investments moving forward.
Earlier this year, OFRF used funding from a FY 2016 OREI grant to host a national gathering of organic producers and researchers, the Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS). OARS brought together researchers, educators, extension personnel, industry leaders, farmers, and ranchers to share and discuss their latest projects, research, and results. Workshops at the symposium centered around: soil health, pest management, biodegradable mulches, and organic farming. Reports from each theme area that summarized the presentations and conclusions made at OARS were also published as part of the post-conference materials.
OFRF will use its FY 2017 OREI grant to continue the conversation and knowledge sharing on organic research. OFRF was awarded a grant to present a Special Session Symposium on Organic Agriculture Soil Health Research and multiple related sessions at the annual meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America (otherwise known as Tri-Societies). More than 4,000 scientists, professionals, educators, and students are scheduled to attend the meeting, which takes place October 22-25, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.
The sessions at the Symposium will focus on nine main issues, ranging from the effects of cover crops and compost to the influence of soil management practices on economic returns. Though targeted toward organic producers, this soil health-focused research will be useful for farmers using all types of production methods.
OFRF’s FY 2017 OREI grant will also support a live online broadcast of the Special Session and scholarships to help students, farmers, and researchers attend the conference.
USDA research programs have helped farmers and ranchers across the country to improve their effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability. Despite their marked impact, public research programs (including organic research programs) have been woefully underfunded for years. OREI, for example, does not have baseline funding beyond the 2014 Farm Bill. This means that if Congress does not take action, the program will run out of money and grind to a halt when the 2014 Farm Bill expires on September 30, 2018.
The good news is, however, that organizations like NSAC and OFRF have been working closely with our champions in Congress to change things. In May, Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) introduced the Organic Agriculture Research Act of 2017, which will spur innovative research and extension programs by increasing funding for OREI from $20 million to $50 million annually. The bill also extends the program’s authorization to 2023. This bill is supported by NSAC, as well as many of our allies and partners.